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December 9th 1801

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The educators of Perth

The Reverend James Hall travelled extensively in Scotland in 1801. He was impressed with the standards of education in Perth. He was less impressed with the behaviour of the people.

“It is the very nature and spirit of the Reformation, to appeal from the canons and councils of the church, to the letter of the scriptures. The turn or propensity to study the dead languages was therefore strongest where the spirit of the Reformation was the strongest.

At Perth, probably from the era of the Reformation, and certainly from the last century, the office of Rector of the public school has been filled with men of distinguished accomplishments, diligence and success in teaching. Mr William Rynd, rector of the school in 1590, was in such estimation, as to be appointed governor and go abroad with the young Earl of Gowrie and his brother Alexander Ruthven.

The two Martins, father and son, were Rectors of Perth School for nearly fifty years of the last century. Mr Cornfute, who had been first usher under the younger Martin, and was appointed Rector in 1752, was not inferior to either of the Martins in all the requisites of that office. In all the qualities of an accomplished gentleman he was their superior. He would have been as proper for the office of governor to a young nobleman or prince in his day, as Mr Rynd was towards the close of the sixteenth century. The diligence zeal and success of such men excited in Perth and the vicinity an enthusiasm in literature. At Perth School as at the best schools in England, the boys were taught both Latin and Greek.

But in the midst of all this learning, the Perthians, in general, illiberal, conceited, penurious, and inhospitable, exhibited the singular character of religious and lettered barbarians, without many of the virtues of barbarians or even savages.

The light of science gradually advanced; bigotry was somewhat softened; with the true grain of philosophy there grew up tares; John Knox was supplanted by Tom Paine; and a very great number of the inhabitants of Perth, faithful to the character of fervour to excess, ran from one extreme to another. Sedentary and melancholy weavers burnt their Bibles, and instead of subscribing to new editions of Boston’s Fourfold State and Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible took in volumes or parts of their own Encyclopaedia Perthensis. They cracked jokes, sang songs, drank whisky, danced promisky, and sauntered about the Inches on Sundays, even in the time of divine service. But though the Perthians of 1792, 93 and 94 were seized with a violent fit of democracy and irreligion, they have now recovered from that paroxysm. And the present state of Perth, with respect of religion, is as follows: There is not now to be seen on any countenance that Druidical gloom which darkened Perth and its vicinity about thirty or forty years ago. It is true than many religious sectaries still exist in Perth: but all difference in religious opinions is moderated by a spirit of forbearance. They are in fact, verging, like their neighbours throughout Christendom, not to the millennium but to the age of indifference."

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